Cole-Miller Coach Company.
Clint Cole, “The one man Miller show”
Born April 13, 1912 Clint passed away on March 22, 1995.
Mr. Cole had previously worked for a Pratt & Whitney Company before venturing out to find work with A.J. Miller.
Mr. Cole was originally hired by Leonard Robb who was the president of the A. J. Miller Coach Company. This was when the Miller Company was still an independent coach manufacturing company located in Bellefontaine, Ohio. The A. J. Miller Company had began business in 1853 making horse carriages and then automobiles but after suffering lackluster automobile sales went exclusively to manufacturing only funeral coaches and ambulances. Clint Cole launched the Cole-Miller Coach Company which he owned and operated in Kansas City Missouri.
In 1956 Wayne acquired A.J. Miller Company and merged it together with their recently acquired Meteor Company to form the new Miller-Meteor (M-M) division of Wayne. The two companies actually competed with each other in 1956 but by 1957 they were a combined singular business.
Hired before the merger of these two companies Clint Cole started by selling Miller coaches in the early 1950’s. This is why the name of the company was (and always remained) Cole-Miller Coach Company.
This new merger in 1957 allowed Cole-Miller Coach Company to add a larger selection of vehicles to their lineup as Miller-Meteor now offered more options and models than the two companies could individually.
Later Cole-Miller Coach Company would also add the Cotner-Bevington line of professional vehicles as Wayne Works also purchased the Blytheville, Arkansas Company in 1964
After establishing the Cole-Miller Coach Company and getting it permitted Mr. Cole became an independent dealer which means he worked for himself and therefore he did not actually work for the Miller-Meteor Company. Mr. Cole rather just sold their cars as an authorized retail dealer. Mr. Cole operated in the Kansas City Metro Area and sold throughout the region.
Cadillac was the leading manufacturer of professional car chassis at this time and they conducted regular market research to aid in the sales and manufacturing of their products. Cadillac kept a current list of all the funeral homes and livery services in each state and region throughout the United States. Based off the numbers of funeral homes and business that already operated professional cars Cadillac was then able to roughly estimate how many professional car chassis would be sold each year. These numbers helped Cadillac then gauge the numbers of chassis that were needed to be manufactured and sold for the upcoming year to meet their sales quotas.
During the 1960’s there were three major coach builders using Cadillac chassis which were Superior, Miller-Meteor, and Sayers & Scovill. There also several smaller coach builders including Pinner, McClain, and a few others.
With several different coach companies all vying for these Cadillac professional car chassis, Cadillac would also estimate how many each individual coach manufacturing company could realistically sell based on their own research which was coupled with previous sales records and the current demand for each makers vehicles.
Miller-Meteor being a mid price range vehicle often sold the bulk of professional cars during these years as their affordability allowed more customers the financial ability to purchase a new vehicle. Miller-Meteor set their sales goal for each year of selling 50% of all professional Cadillac chassis manufactured each year with the remaining 50% of Cadillac chassis being divided among the other companies.
Mr. Cole who was described by those who knew him as a gentle giant because his humble yet fun loving nature often made people feel at ease. He could also tell stories and captivate listeners with fascinating details of almost any topic under the sun as he was well versed on all subjects. These characteristics combined with a sharp intellect and focus on business allowed Mr. Cole to always meet his sales quotas each year set forth by both Cadillac and Miller-Meteor.
One of Mr. Cole’s most memorable sales tactics which he employed during the regular National Funeral Directors Association Convention was showing up with his new model year Miller-Meteor ambulance or professional car covered in promotional magnets. Someone once referred to his cars at the convention as a porcupine because they were adorned with so many of these magnets that they had the appearance of a porcupine. “Hey here comes Clint and his porcupine” was then often heard.
One at a time Mr. Cole would peel one of these magnets off that contained his contact information and telephone number and hand them to the people passing by. He would proclaim with enthusiasm that his cars were stronger and better built because they were fabricated with all metal construction. After handing a magnet to someone he would invite that person to take his magnet and visit the as Superior display and encourage the person to ask Superior how well a magnet adhered to their lower quality fiberglass construction.
Being friends with Ralph Mullen’s of Superior sales Clint Cole would occasionally even walk over to the Superior booth and playfully place a magnet on the Superior car body where it was fiberglass. Then with an Oscar winning performance he would act totally surprised and shocked as the magnet fell to the ground.
Ralph would tell Clint to knock it off and Clint would laugh and say that it wasn’t his fault for the fact Superior used boat materials for their cars. Back in the early 1960’s fiberglass was mostly used in small boats but not very much in the production of automobiles. The fact consumers were still weary of such new materials and found metal to be the standard Clint capitalized on this fact and it helped him gain an advantage in selling Miller-Meteors.
As with Cadillac and their formula on calculating the number of professional chassis each year, Miller-Meteor also had their own formula in calculating what their independent dealers would sell in the way of vehicles each year. Cole-Miller Coach Sales was given their sales quotas for their territory and as mentioned before Clint Cole always met or exceeded his sales quotas. There was an incentive Miller-Meteor used that allowed a higher profit margin for the higher number of vehicles sold. A rough example of this would be (meaning these numbers used are fictitious and only used as an example) the first 10 vehicles the sales distributor would receive a 12% sales commission. Then 10 – 20 vehicles that percentage would be raised to 14%, and any vehicle sold after the 20th vehicle would be 16% sales commission.
This incentive was naturally used to help motivate these individual distributors to sell as many cars as possible and everyone would benefit. Again Mr. Cole took advantage of these sales incentives and used them to his advantage while meeting and exceeding his quotas. Although not the top sales distributor in terms of total unit numbers sold, Mr. Cole always exceeded his regional sales quotas. Mr. Cole was highly respected not only for being a great salesman who met his goals but for the character he possessed and how he handled business.
Above photo shows a blank sales receipt from Cole-Miller Coach Company which was used back in the day. Today it’s hard for many of us to fathom how simple times were or the fact you simply filled in the various serial numbers and general information by hand or typewriter and that alone provided for a sales receipt for an automobile.
Another aspect of how things were done differently in the past (or so it seems) is general apparel. People back then seemed to generally dress better. Even in general images from that era you will see more young men with dress shirts and ties than you will in today’s more casual dress environment. The same held true for Mr. Cole back in his day.
Always dressed nicely and with a professional demeanor Clint Cole would often wear a bow tie and on special occasions a red vest. Those that knew him said he was meticulously dressed even if he wasn’t wearing new clothes he was able to pull off a professional appearance that stood out and helped define his professionalism.
The most fascinating part of Mr. Cole’s unique story is the fact that Cole-Miller Coach Company was operated differently than most other large independent professional car dealers which often had nice fancy car dealerships with a car lot. Mr. Cole operated his entire operation out of a small office on the main floor of Physician’s Exchange Ambulance Service located at 2826 Main Street in Kansas City Missouri. During the 1960’s Mr. Cole paid $100.00 a month in rent which including free parking. He conducted most of his business over the telephone and through his list of extensive contacts and repeat customers. This advantage led to much lower overhead and allowed Mr. Cole to set a standard not often seen before or since. This standard was in how Clint viewed both Miller-Meteor and others in general.
Mr. Cole rarely returned any new vehicles to Miller-Meteor for small repair claims or factory defects and would pay out of his own pocket to have these issues resolved for his customers. The fact Mr. Cole had such low overhead allowed him to eat these costs which in today’s money would amount to over $100,000 a year. For customers unaware of the behind the scene details in these claims it was beneficial to them as turnaround time for getting the car back to the customer was often just 2-3 days opposed to a week or longer if the vehicle had to be sent back to the Miller-Meteor factory in Ohio.
This allowed Cole-Miller Coach Company to have a record of better and faster customer service than several other dealers who opted to send such claims and vehicles back to Ohio thus costing much more money.
When any representative from the Miller-Meteor headquarters were in Kansas City visiting Clint Cole he always picked up the tab for meals and even at times arranged overnight accommodations which he paid for. Clint Cole argued that if Miller-Meteor had to pay all these bills that the end result would be the cars would then end up costing more and he would lose the sales advantage he enjoyed of selling a mid-range priced professional vehicle. He also felt by sending vehicles back to Miller-Meteor for any minor claim work would cause a back up in the assembly line process because Miller-Meteor would have to stop the production line and squeeze these cars back into line to get those issues resolved. Clint felt this was an injustice to the line workers who worked hard to assemble these cars. Although Clint Cole worked for himself he was considered one of Miller-Meteors most loyal and respected dealers for his character and approach in the fact he always put the Miller-Meteor company and their employees first.
An opposite example of how another independent distributor operated that tried to take advantage of Miller-Meteor is when there was an issue with the rear heater coils installed in the ambulances which had a defect. Miller-Meteor sent out a refund to those dealers who could provide invoice numbers for their vehicles. One dealer submitted their invoice numbers and it wasn’t until several claims were made that it was discovered this one particular dealer was submitting invoices for hearse which did not have a rear heater core or were under the Ambulance recall warranty. When contacted and informed the hearses were not under this defect warranty the dealer Said, “Yea I know but I figured if Miller-Meteor was cutting checks I could get a few”. It was said that Clint Cole would never consider such unethical actions much less submit the claims; he would simply send the car over to the company that performed mechanical work and pay for it out of his own pocket.
Clint Cole contracted, and had a great working relationship with Web Motors located on 15th street and Truman in downtown Kansas City. Web Motors handled any mechanical and body work that was needed on the Cole-Miller Coach Company’s professional vehicles. It was noted that at any given time there was usually 3-4 professional cars parked at Web Motors and even a for sale sign in some of the used vehicles windows. This was one way Mr. Cole was able to have a small place to park his used or trade-in vehicles and not pay for space. It could be argued that Mr. Cole was ingeniously clever at being frugal and that he was simply a very sharp businessman that took advantage of keeping overhead costs low which then allowed him to be generous in other ways.
Another ingenious aspect of Mr. Cole and his Cole-Miller Coach Company was the strategic location of his office. Located inside the office of one of his best customers “Physicians Exchange” Mr. Cole was able to also show potential customers new vehicles in the Physicians Exchange fleet that he had already sold and which were “in use”. All he had to do was walk a potential customer into the garage to show them the new models and what better testament to selling a new vehicle than showing potential customers already sold models that were in operation. This also allowed Mr. Cole the financial benefit of not carrying any real inventory or even pay for the space where these new cars were parked. This too only added in his low overhead and allowed Clint Cole to take advantage of such a brilliant opportunity. It was this type creative thinking and sharp mind for business that allowed Mr. Cole to succeed where others failed.
Another benefit to working out of the Physician’s Exchange main office was the opportunity to use some of the Physician’s Exchange ambulance staff when a special need would arise. There were several occasions where Clint Cole could not get away from the office so he would pay one of the ambulance attendants to drive up to the Miller-Meteor headquarters in Piqua, Ohio or down to Contner-Bevington in Arkansas to pick up new ambulances or funeral coaches. This was beneficial since Mr. Cole didn’t have to pay a full time employee to be on staff which could be costly. This was also beneficial to the men who picked up this extra overtime pay and made road trips.
Jim Brown remembers driving to Miller-Meteor headquarters where he met Tom Caserta and was given a tour of the assembly line. Jim Brown recalled that very first trip to Ohio and how special that trip and the gracious tour and welcome he received even as a driver picking up a new car. He also shared how those special memories have lasted a lifetime.
Mr. Cole was also generous and loyal in the fact he employed an older retired gentleman in the same “As need basis” by the name of Jim A. Rose who would drive the cars back and forth and help Mr. Cole in the transporting of used funeral coaches and ambulances that were sold through trade-in’s to small rural towns. Mr. Rose was a very important asset to Cole Miller Coach Company and Clint Cole not only recognized this but appreciated Mr. Rose.
Clint looked after him and even helped him financially when he was admitted into a nursing care facility where he passed away in 1976. It might be argued that Mr. Cole was frugal in some aspects of spending money but when it came to principals, loyalty, family and friends there was no expense spared when it was the right thing to do.
Clint Cole was highly regarded by his peers in the professional car circles as well as the people and companies who utilized such vehicles. Even competitors or others in the business that he might argue with or have issues with all knew they were on the same “big team” and after an argument or fallout they would simply say to one another, “Hey you hungry, let’s go to lunch” where they would end up talking about current events, sports, or other conversations that allowed them to unwind and relax a little. Looking back on how live was back then we all like to think it was a simpler more relaxing time and in many ways it was.
We take this opportunity to record this small portion of professional car history highlighting Clint Cole and the Cole-Miller Coach Company of Kansas City. During his day Mr. Cole was a large part of the professional car industry and a leader in so many ways.
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